LAFAYETTE — The FBI questioned some Lafayette Parish School Board members in the spring about its business with an insurance consultant and whether they were offered bribes, some School Board members confirmed Monday.
One of the board members questioned, Kermit Bouillion, has asked the School Board to pay his $1,078 legal bill for seeking an attorney’s help prior to and during his interview with an FBI agent in March.
Bouillion, who could not be reached for comment Monday, submitted the invoice from attorney Lester Gauthier to the School Board for payment. The request, on the board’s agenda for Wednesday, involves 3.3 hours for a meeting with Bouillion to review documents and “published articles” and then a two-hour meeting with an FBI agent. Gauthier billed Bouillion at a rate of $200 an hour. State law caps legal fees at $175 an hour. He also charged Bouillion $18 for copies of documents.
The FBI would not confirm any investigation of the school system or School Board.
“It is normal procedure for us not to confirm the existence of investigations,” said Mary Beth Romig, FBI media affairs specialist.
Board member Greg Awbrey confirmed Monday the FBI questioned him and other board members this spring about the board’s business with Tikia Consulting, an insurance consultant hired to help the board vet proposals from insurance plan administrator companies. The board hired the consulting firm in June 2013 for its selection of an insurance plan administrator, and the process was criticized by applicants and current and retired employees. Sometime in late 2013, the consultant firm offered some School Board members Saints tickets, some board members have said.
“They wanted to talk about Tikia and wanted to know if I had been offered Saints tickets,” Awbrey said of the FBI agents.
Awbrey said he had not been offered tickets, but he had heard that other board members had.
On Monday, Awbrey questioned Bouillion’s request for the board to pay his legal bill, saying he doesn’t think it’s the board’s responsibility.
“That was his choice to bring an attorney,” Awbrey said. “He didn’t have to bring an attorney. I didn’t. I didn’t see any reason to bring an attorney.”
Recently, the board paid a $13,000 legal bill for an attorney who represented board President Hunter Beasley and members Mark Babineaux and Tehmi Chassion after they were named in a lawsuit by former Superintendent Pat Cooper, who asked a judge to bar them from voting in his employment hearing.
“They were served. It was in the course of doing their job,” Awbrey said.
Beasley said the board may choose to cover Bouillion’s legal expenses, based on the advice from the board’s general counsel. However, Beasley said the board would need to address the $200-an-hour fee, which exceeds the state’s legal services cap of $175 an hour.
“We’ve gotten some direction from our general counsel, and while there has been no suit filed or no threat of litigation, Mr. Bouillion was acting in his position as a School Board member when he was questioned by the FBI,” Beasley said.
Beasley said he also was questioned by the FBI about the board’s business with Tikia, adding that he was not offered any Saints tickets.
“I didn’t feel that I needed an attorney because I didn’t feel that I had done anything wrong,” Beasley said.
Ultimately, the board opted to scrap the insurance selection process and start over on its own — without Tikia Consulting. In February, the consultant group issued a demand letter to the School Board for $200,000 for its work, which the board refused to pay. The company has not filed a lawsuit.
In February, board members Shelton Cobb and Mark Cockerham confirmed they were offered Saints tickets. Cobb at that time told The Acadiana Advocate he couldn’t recall the time frame of the offer, but it was sometime in late 2013, and he didn’t feel the need to report the offer to the state ethics commission. Cockerham had confirmed that he was offered the tickets and accepted them but then tried to return them.
Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.